Show And Prove: Jidenna Brings a Breath of Fresh Air to Hip-Hop
Show And Prove: Jidenna
Words Roger Krastz
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Fall 2015 issue of of XXL Magazine, on stands now.
Stylish 29-year-old rapper Jidenna has brought a breath of fresh air to hip-hop style with his impeccable three-piece suits and self-described Swank movement, riding the back of his breakout smash record “Classic Man” to radio ubiquity.
Born in Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., Jidenna Mobisson spent the first few years of his life in his father’s homeland of Nigeria before the family moved to the Boston area when he was six. An above average student (both of his folks were educators), J spent most of his time playing sports while attending school at the elite Milton Academy. At 17, he got interested in hip-hop, and soon recorded a 22-track album for a school project with his rap group Black Spadez.
After graduating from Milton in 2003 (as a member of their Cum Laude Society), the rap upstart headed West to Stanford University, where he attended from 2003 until 2008, eventually earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity.
Besides studying, Jidenna acted as a local party promoter, throwing regular masquerade balls with his crew, Fear & Fancy, a collective of artists and activists. F&F even dropped two hip-hop albums, Twenty Twelve and The Playlist. In 2007 at one of their parties, J crossed paths with singer Janelle Monaé, who took an instant liking to the clean-cut newbie artist and the two became buddies.
Over the next seven years, Jidenna focused more on politics than hip-hop, working at Stanford’s MLK Institute and eventually moving to New York City to teach history through hip-hop to kids. It wasn’t until November 2014 that he decided to ink a deal with Monaé’s Wondaland Records (distributed by Epic Records). “We’ve been jamming and hanging out, and last year we decided to make it official,” J explains.
Three months later, Wondaland put out Jidenna’s “Classic Man,” featuring Roman GianArthur, as the lead single off the label’s debut compilation EP, Wondaland Presents: The Eephus. The monster record catapulted Jidenna into the spotlight and landed an official remix with Kendrick Lamar. Both records collectively received 37 million YouTube views by August of this year and the original version peaked at No. 22 on the Billboard Hot 100.
With a hit single still blazing and tours lined up through the year, Jidenna continues to build. “I think people will look back at Jidenna as one of the best writers, performers, artists and leaders of our generation,” says manager Mikael Moore. “He’s the real deal.”
Check out more from our Fall 2015 issue including our cover story with Future and interviews with Mac Miller, Scarface, Damian Lillard and August Alsina, a look at the beef between Meek Mill and Drake compared to 50 Cent and Ja Rule, profiles on Southside, Metro Boomin and London On Da Track and more.